1 , 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 34 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK
new, non-inclusive cabinet promises more political instability
By JOSE MANUEL Tesoro and DEWI LOVEARD Jakarta
Megawati Sukarnoputri is one politician who makes waves not by her speech
or her presence, but by her silence and her absence. When President
Abdurrahman Wahid announced his new 26-member cabinet on Aug. 23 at the
presidential palace, the vice president was nowhere to be seen. The explanation
given by Wahid, better known as Gus Dur, was that the leader of the legislature's
largest faction, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P by its
Iandonesian initials), was exhausted after helping him assemble the line-up.
"She went home to bathe," said the half-blind Muslim cleric drolly.
constitutional changes passed by the MPR:
Reduce the president's power over laws. Even if the president
does not sign a bill passed by the DPR, it still becomes law
after 30 days.
Enshrine the DPR's authority to interrogate or investigate as
an explicit part of the charter. When summoned by the DPR last
April, Wahid argued that questioning him was unconstitutional.
This argument is no longer valid.
Introduce provisions protecting freedoms of religion, assembly,
opinion, association and information, among other human rights.
But a single article claiming a "human" right against
retroactive prosecution -- a perceived concession to the military,
which is fighting off inquiries into its past human-rights abuses
-- has marred this achievement.
truth is that she went home because she was upset. After all, the new
cabinet, consisting mostly of Wahid's friends and favorites, ignores her
interests. Both Kwik Kian Gie and Laksamana Sukardi, her favored PDI-P
stalwarts, were not included. The cabinet's two top posts went to Wahid
loyalists: Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, an ex-general who recently joined
Gus Dur's National Awakening Party, was made coordinating minister in
charge of politics, while economist Rizal Ramli, whom Wahid had picked
to head ex-food monopoly Bulog, took the coordinating economics minister
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As Wahid had promised, the new cabinet is more streamlined than the 35-member
team he assembled last October. But it is slimmer partly because those
considered loyal to the PDI-P, the former ruling party Golkar or Muslim
politician Amien Rais are not part of the line-up. New faces are few.
More than two-thirds of the appointees are holdovers from the previous
This was not what had been expected on Aug. 9, when Wahid told the restive
People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), which had roundly criticized his
past 10 months of performance, that he would hand over day-to-day government
duties to his vice president. Megawati had won nearly a third of the popular
vote in the July 1999 parliamentary polls, but was outmaneuvered by Wahid
and assembly chief Rais in the race for the presidency.
That apparent concession to the PDI-P was key to his survival during the
MPR session, which lasted from Aug. 7 to 18. Hostility against Wahid had
been building since April, when he replaced two PDI-P and Golkar representatives
in his cabinet with his own people (thus upsetting the delicate coalition
between various contending forces). In July, parliament, or the DPR, mustered
an official summons to Wahid so he could explain his decision. At that
session, Wahid acidly told the 500 members of the DPR, which is part of
the 695-seat MPR, that parliament had no constitutional right to question
Some legislators were enraged enough to propose changes to internal MPR
rules that would allow the annual session of the country's highest legislative
body to become a "special" one, with the authority to unseat the president.
But Gus Dur survived his critics and enemies by a cunning trick: If in
the DPR he was stubborn to the end, in the MPR he caved in quickly. By
appearing to agree to a power-sharing arrangement, he headed off the more
serious scenarios previously discussed by legislators: either to request
Wahid to step down or get MPR members to call a special session to remove
Wahid's apparent compromise let off so much steam that the MPR left it
to him to detail what duties he would delegate to Megawati. That may well
be a decision it will rue. For almost immediately, it became clear that
the power-sharing Wahid had in mind would not be between equals. Two days
after his Aug. 9 "capitulation," Wahid adjusted his announcement: "What
has been handed over to the vice president is duties not authority," he
explained. "The authority remains in the president's hands." Given his
current cabinet line-up, the promised power-sharing could amount to little
more than what has existed before: Megawati reading out Wahid's official
Some MPs even claim now that they had moderated their criticism because
they had been led to believe by Wahid's camp that they would be considered
as possible ministers. Says Golkar MP Muchyar Yara: "I'm really disappointed
because I wasn't named labor minister as Gus Dur promised. But this is
his loss. In the future we'll be more critical." Perhaps in their greed,
the politicians were blinded to the obvious: As politics moves from the
MPR floor back to the presidential palace, power inevitably flows from
the parties back to the president. Less than two weeks after their cadres
pressured Wahid on his annual report, party leaders found themselves trooping
to the palace to beg for positions.
"Gus Dur cannot be changed," says J. Kristiadi, deputy director of Jakarta's
Center for Strategic and International Studies. By leading everyone else
to think that he might, the clever Wahid may just have pulled off a daring,
and extremely effective, political swindle. Yet with so much unresolved
in their August scuffle, the debilitating conflict between president and
politicians can only pick up again and this time, with a vengeance.
Political analyst Soedjati Djiwandono cannot predict the winner. But he
says: "I can tell you who loses: the Indonesian people."
all his guile, Wahid has not emerged entirely unbloodied. The MPR also
has the authority to amend the country's 1945 Constitution. Among the
amendments passed were articles explicitly defining the authority of the
DPR, especially in passing laws and in questioning or investigating government
activities (see box below). When the DPR returns to its session, legislators
plan to investigate the windling of $4 million from Bulog by Wahid's masseur,
as well as a "personal gift" of $2 million that Wahid received from Brunei's
Sultan. "If we can prove that he is involved in those scandals, it will
mean he has abused his power," says Golkar MP Ade Komaruddin. But the
process by which the DPR can call for a special MPR session is long and
arduous. So more months of infighting and instability are likely to be
That the MPR did not succeed in doing what it had been most determined
to accomplish to emasculate Wahid, or at least to force him to
respect its component parties' wishes and instead was humiliated
draws attention to the session's other failures. In the 12-day, $3-million
conference, the MPR touched only 10 of the 21 articles put up for amendment.
It left unresolved such key points in the Constitution as the powers of
the judiciary, the regional councils and the MPR itself. The body also
disappointed many reformists especially by making numerous concessions
to the military.
In the absence of strong internal opposition, the MPR allowed the military
to retain its representation in the assembly until 2009. A chapter on
human rights now written into the Constitution even includes a clause
protecting citizens from prosecution for offenses committed before a law
was promulgated a loophole that may help the armed forces evade
answering for past human-rights abuses.
The advance of conservatives in the military began even before the MPR
opened. On July 31, the military's most outspoken supporter of reform,
Maj.-Gen. Agus Wirahadikusumah, was relieved as chief of the Army Strategic
Reserve in an apparent backlash against his public criticism early this
year of his superior, ex-armed forces chief Gen. Wiranto.
Maj.-Gen. Saurip Kadi, one of a number of military reformists who were
transferred out at about the same time, claims that reform in the armed
forces has been put on hold, if not eliminated. The same might be said
of politics in general. "Where is the sense of reform?" cries Saurip.
"Don't people in parliament, government and the military realize that
they have betrayed the pure initiative of the student movement to convert
the country from a military to a civil society?"
Wahid might have sold out Megawati with his new cabinet, but the MPR sold
out as well and got nothing. That Indonesia's leaders postured
and maneuvered for profit or survival instead of building a solid constitutional
basis for political reform and economic development is but the latest
bitter lesson for Indonesia's young democracy.
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November 30, 2000